Harney deserving of special shame

By Vincent Browne

First an apology to Brian Cowen. Here and elsewhere I have written and said that of all the people still holding public office, he was most to blame for the wanton damage that has been done to this society and this economy. On reflection I now believe this is mistaken.

He is not the person who is most to blame. And I owe this reflection to Louise Minihan, a member of Dublin City Council who shouted “shame on you” at the person still in public office who is most to blame, before pouring red paint on her.

The person who is most to blame is, of course, Mary Harney.

She is one of the five long-termers in the Cabinet who have been there since 1997 - Brian Cowen, Micheal Martin, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey and herself.

All of them deserve shame to be heaped on them, if not red paint (and, by the way, I don’t advocate the pouring of red paint on anybody, although the Labour Party front bench could do with it). But Mary Harney is deserving of special shame.

She was tanaiste for nine of the 13 years this crowd has been in office. For the most part our tanaisti have been fairly anonymous. Happily.

Only somebody seriously to be pitied could name all 19 tanaisti since the position was created in the 1937 Constitution. The office meant nothing at all until Dick Spring made it into something in 1992 and it remained something when Mary Harney got it in 1997, in effect deputy first minister.

It was she who was the apostle of Boston rather than Berlin - rampant, neocon Boston capitalism versus the more restrained Berlin version, the option that drives inequality and premature death for thousands.

It was she who aided and abetted the ravaging of our tax system, leaving us vulnerable to the collapse of transactional taxes which has caused our present crisis.

And as Minister for Health it has been her who has driven the momentum towards the deepening of the two-tier divide, with the rich pampered in the well-endowed private sector and the rest having to make do on trolleys and the waiting lists.

If anybody needed reminding of the harm Mary Harney has caused, just look at the shuddering incompetence of the way the redundancy scheme in the Health Service Executive was announced on Monday.

That a redundancy scheme which should have been introduced in 2004 is now to be rushed through in a few weeks ensures that it will be yet another fiasco.

Expecting people to make career-changing decisions in two weeks, and expecting an already dysfunctional organisation to cope with the resultant chaos arising from 5,000 self-selected departures, is so crazy it had to have been thought up by Mary Harney.

Why wasn’t this done six years ago? Why are the same number of people (around 560) still working in the Department of Health and Children as there were when almost every function the department had was delegated to the HSE in 2004?

What confidence can the bond dealers in the financial markets have in this State when somebody with such a track record remains in office, remains to decide now how the country is to be rescued from the damage for which she is so much to blame?

And incidentally (for it is incidental) what confidence can the people of this country have in a Government that includes the person who did so much to bring about this crisis?

There is a further reason to be concerned about Mary Harney still being in office.

There are two broad policy options in dealing with the [euro]15 billion budget deficit: have the rich pay for the adjustments since the rich, by definition, were the ones who made most from society to date; or spread the pain, or pretend to spread the pain and, essentially, have the non-rich pay for the crisis.

Mary Harney, being the Boston lady, will go for the pretence to spread the pain - whatever the further damage this will do, on top of the damage she has already done in office, especially in the period while she was tanaiste.

So renewed apologies to Brian Cowen for failing to acknowledge there is still someone around who has caused even more harm than him.

Step forward Mary Harney, to a position of lonely eminence: the worse tanaiste ever.

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